NEWELL NEWELL, ROBERT "CRAZY GREGG", 69, died peacefully in his sleep at his Fort Lauderdale home on Wednesday. February 12, after a lengthy battle with lung and liver cancer. Long regarded as the" Father of Spring Break", his nightclubs and wacky parties helped put Fort Lauderdale on the lips of college students for more than 40 years. Newell, nicknamed "Crazy" after a beer promotion he once featured at the Elbo Room, was born in Boston, MA. on April 12, 1933, only child to the late Robert and Lucille Newell. He was raised in Highland Park, IL. and graduated with a degree in Audiology from Purdue University. He visited Fort Lauderdale for Spring break in 1955 and promised himself that he would return to the area after graduation to live his life surrounded by sunshine and palm trees. He moved to the area in 1957 and worked as a hearing aid salesman but soon the lure of the beachlife and nightclub business took hold of him and he began work as the bar manager at Calder's Club 88 in Lauderdale by the Sea. He later worked as the manager at the infamous Porky's on North Federal Highway before running the upstairs bar for 9 years at the Elbo Room. After a change of ownership forced him out of his job, he opened The Button in the Holiday Inn Oceanside Hotel in 1970 and began his series of daily "college parties" in 1971, pitting schools on Spring break against each other in various innocent and tawdry competitions. The Button parties grew in such stature that Newell opened C.W. Dandy's , The Windjammer and Button Up each Spring in other parts of the hotel to accommodate the overflow crowds. He sold his interest in The Button in the early 1980's and opened The Agora Ballroom in Hallandale, which eventually became The Button South. After co-owning Mr. Laff's All-Star Cafe in 1990, he purchased a green 34 foot Sonic speedboat named "Kermit" and opened a sightseeing business called Speedboat Adventures, offering tourists boatrides on the intracoastal, trips along the beachfront or even charter rides top Miami, the Keys or Bimini. He often would take Spring Breakers out for a joy ride at no cost, simply because he liked to see people enjoy themselves. A few months before his death, in front of over 200 of his former employees and longtime friends, Newell was the guest of honor at an "Aloha" party at The Parrot Lounge where Mayor Jim Naugle issued a proclamation declaring October 22 as "Crazy Gregg Day" in Fort Lauderdale. A similar party at Cheers in December re-united Newell with another crowd of over 100 old co-workers and customers. Newell confirmed all of his own funeral arrangements in the months leading to his death. Friends may call from 4:00 to 6:00 P.M. on Sunday, Feb 16, at the funeral home. A mass will be held at 10:00 A.M. on Monday, Feb. 17 at Saint Anthony Catholic Church, 901 N.E. 2nd Street, Ft. Lauderdale, with interment to follow in Evergreen Cemetery, Ft. Lauderdale. Newell was not married and had no children or other close relatives, but is survived by many, many close friends in South Florida, and the Bahamas. In lieu of flowers, he asks that donations be made to Hospice Care of South East Florida, 309 S.E. 18th Street, Ft. Lauderdale, Fl 33316 or St. Jude's Children's Research Hospital, 501 St.Jude Place, Memphis, TN. 38105-1905. Arrangements by: FAIRCHILD FUNERAL HOME & CREMATION CENTER 299 N. Federal Highway Ft. Lauderdale,Fl 33301 954/763-4488.
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Published in Sun-Sentinel on Feb. 14, 2003